Mobilization of Latino Voters May Determine Control of U.S. Senate

Control of the U.S. Senate could well hinge on how well political parties and candidates mobilize the Latino vote in November, suggests Loren Collingwood, a political scientist at the University of California, Riverside who analyzed Latino voting behavior in the 2012 presidential race.

In Colorado, a toss-up state, the GOP is using Jeb Bush in ads targeting Latino voters, Collingwood notes. Bush speaks fluent Spanish and the ads are run on Spanish-only television. Several other toss-up states have seen a growth in the Latino population and voter pool lately, including Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Iowa.

“While the majority of these states continue to operate on a black-white racial dynamic, the growing Latino population may play a decidedly important role here and the candidate best able to cross-racially mobilize effectively will increase their chances of winning,” he says. “In many ways, we are beginning to see the racial triangulation of electoral politics that has long been present in places like California, Texas, New York, and Florida.”

In a September post on The London School of Economics and Political Science blog on American politics and policy, Collingwood explains why President Obama was so successful with Latino voters in 2012 and why GOP nominee Mitt Romney was not.

“One of the main storylines that came out of the 2012 presidential election was the role the Latino vote played in Obama’s victory,” he says. “Among Latino voters, Barack Obama outpaced Mitt Romney by a margin of 75 to 23 — the highest rate of support for any Democratic candidate among Latinos. While turnout declined nationally from 2008 to 2012 by 2 percent, among Latinos there was a 28 percent increase in votes cast in 2012 (from 9.7 to 12.5 million) and Obama further increased his vote share among Latinos in 2012 compared to 2008. However, this was not a foregone conclusion, and many theories circulated since 2009 suggested the Latino vote might be underwhelming in 2012.”

Drawing on research published in April in the peer-reviewed journal Political Research Quarterly, Collingwood says that traditional analyses of the Latino electorate – younger and lower-income than average voters, who tend to identify as Democrats – and its support of some Obama policies regarding undocumented students do not fully explain the unprecedented support the president received two years ago.

Collingwood and co-authors Matt A. Barreto and Sergio I. Garcia-Rios of the University of Washington, Seattle, posit a new theory in “Revisiting Latino Voting: Cross-Racial Mobilization in the 2012 Election” to demonstrate that standard variables such as voter identification and attitudes toward the economy fail to adequately explain Obama’s success in 2012.

Cross-racial mobilization (CRM) accounts for candidates’ ability to tap into shared racial/ethnic identity as well as voters’ perceptions of outreach aimed at them. It takes many forms, such as racial appeals in advertisements, public positions on racial issues, registration campaigns, and get-out-the-vote efforts targeted at members of a specific racial group.

The researchers identify two general forms of cross-racial mobilization: policy, which relates to candidate positions on key minority issues, and outreach, which involves various forms of voter mobilization.

Using an election eve survey of 5,613 Latino voters conducted by Latino Decisions across the U.S., the researchers found that candidates’ policy stances regarding immigration and their ability to convey care and concern to the Latino community were important factors that guided Latino voters’ decisions at the ballot box. Outreach by the Obama campaign was far more aggressive and culturally sensitive than efforts by the Romney team, and thus, more effective.

“When taking into account the Obama campaign’s ability to tap into the shared racial and ethnic identities of Latinos, voters were up to 70 percent more likely to vote for Obama because of this engagement,” Collingwood says.


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